Facebook is at risk of paying $ 15 billion in damages for illegally tracking user activity. The social network saw its appeal rejected by the Supreme Court of the United States and will not be able to avoid the trial.
15 billion euros in damages. Even for Facebook, which has $ 86 billion in revenue, that’s quite a bit.
Yet this is the fine that the company risks for having, according to four complainants, followed the activities of users of the social network, even when they were disconnected from Facebook. This would violate an American law, called the « wiretap act », for “Wiretapping law”.
An expensive “I like”
The firm of Mark Zuckerberg would have mainly exercised these practices between April 2010 and September 2011, before ceasing these tracking activities without consent in 2011 after a researcher brought the facts to light, said the court.
At the time, as soon as a site integrated the plug-in ” I love “, Facebook could track user activity and history. The complainants also accuse the platform of having sold the data thus recovered to advertisers.
Facebook said it “Protected the privacy of its users and that it should not take responsibility for trivial computer-to-computer communications.” “ The firm adds that it “Uses this data to shape the content it shows to its users and to improve the advertisements on its service.” “
Facebook, a participant like any other?
A federal judge dismissed the case in 2017, but the San Francisco 9th District Court of Appeals revived it in 2020, allowing the case to be re-examined. So here we are again with Facebook facing facts that are almost 10 years old.
In order to avoid a lawsuit, Facebook had filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of the United States in order to reduce the class action in particular. His defense was based on a crucial element: the “wiretap act”. This punishes listening to an outside speaker during electronic communications, but does not prohibit one of the direct participants in this communication from listening. So far, it seems normal.
What Facebook tried to argue here is that the social network itself was a participant in this communication, namely the direct recipient or the sender. “Facebook was not an intruder in a conversation between two parties, but a direct participant” even declared the firm in its legal deposit, suggesting that the data collection was not done in an unfair manner.
Nice attempt to dodge, but the Supreme Court considered that the trial should take place. The burden of the astronomical amount of potential damages in this case is becoming more and more concrete for Facebook.